Noble. Proud. Regal. Dangerous… and oddly paternal. The Lion. In particular, meet the Hip-Scar male of the mighty Majingilane. For reasons unbeknownst to us, he has adopted the role of gentle protector of the Sparta Pride cubs, showing levels of tolerance and occasionally playfulness that are in stark contrast to those of his coalition-mates.
Last night the familiar sound of roaring reverberated along the Sand River in Southern Africa, announcing that yet again, the Majingilane were out on patrol. This morning, the Dark-mane and Scar-nosed males, regular companions on their night sojourns, were found near camp, having returned from a patrol to the west of their territory. The Golden-maned male was nowhere to be found.
Hip-scar, however, was firmly entrenched in a pile of Sparta pride cubs, of whom one was unceremoniously chewing on his ear while he lay belly-up in the shade of a jackalberry tree. Of late, he has been the male most often associated with the pride, seemingly more than happy to indulge the cubs in their rough-and-tumble games, whilst the females take a much-deserved snooze nearby.
A tender moment.
Hip-scar in a playful mood with one of the Sparta pride cubs.
This gentle side belies his fierce nature. When his territory or females are at stake, the transformation to deadly killer is abrupt and frightening, as we saw last year when three unknown males wandered onto Majingilane territory, and in 2011, when the inexperienced Southern males lost one of their number through an ill-advised incursion onto central Londolozi.
A photo from last year, with one of the cubs of the now-deceased Sparta lioness. Even then, he showed more signs of affection towards the youngsters than the other males in the coalition.
It is possible for multiple male lions to sire different cubs from the same litter. We aren’t sure exactly which males in the Majingilane have fathered which cubs in the Sparta Pride, especially since all the males would most likely have mated with all the lionesses. However, there are at least two little cubs that bear a striking resemblance to the Hip-scar male. Their telltale green eyes and dark complexions hint strongly at their paternity, whilst their piercing stares at a young age remind us that their father and his coalition were once cute and cuddly cubs.
A chance photograph of a moment that looks like a cheeky tongue-pull!
Should the 7 cubs in the pride survive to adulthood, the investment of the Hip-scar male in their wellbeing, his many hours spent with the pride and his willingness to stand back and let the youngsters feed at kills could prove to have been decisive.
All of the cubs seem to be smitten with their big strong dad/uncle, often using him as a jungle gym and finding in him a constant source of fascination.
Written by Helen Young and James Tyrrell
Photographed by James Tyrrell